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Baseball legend Hank Aaron dies at 86

The Hill logo The Hill 1/22/2021 Marty Johnson
Hank Aaron smiling for the camera: Baseball legend Hank Aaron dies at 86 © Getty Images Baseball legend Hank Aaron dies at 86

Hank Aaron, one of the titans of Major League Baseball and the former all-time home run record-holder, died Friday at the age of 86.

"Mr. Aaron passed away peacefully in his sleep. The family asks for privacy at this time," Aaron's assistant told ABC News.

Affectionately known as Hammerin' Hank, the Hall of Famer was born on Feb. 5, 1934, in Mobile, Ala., one of eight children.

"Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we've ever seen and one of the strongest people I've ever met," former President Barack Obama said in a tweet. "Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Aaron family and everyone who was inspired by this unassuming man and his towering example."

The Milwaukee Braves signed Aaron from the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1952, when he was just 18.

Two years later, Aaron made his debut for the Braves against the Cincinnati Reds, almost seven years to the day after Jackie Robinson started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in modern baseball.

Aaron, along with Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Billy Williams and Willie McCovey - who all grew up in deeply segregated Alabama, like Aaron - were the first wave of Black stars to play in MLB after Robinson.

In 23 seasons in the majors, Aaron was an All-Star all but twice, and despite playing his last game in 1976, he is still the all-time leader in runs batted in, at 2,297, extra base hits, with 1,477, total bases, with 6,856, as well as being second in home runs with 755, only behind Barry Bonds's 762.

"We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank. He was a beacon for our organization first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature," Atlanta Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk said in a statement.

"Henry Louis Aaron wasn't just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world. His success on the diamond was matched only by his business accomplishments off the field and capped by his extraordinary philanthropic efforts. We are heartbroken and thinking of his wife Billye and their children Gaile, Hank, Jr., Lary, Dorinda and Ceci and his grandchildren."

Aaron spent the majority of his career with the Braves, staying with them after they relocated to Atlanta before eventually closing his career with the Milwaukee Brewers.

His shining moment, though, happened four games into the 1974 season - his last year in Atlanta. In front of a home crowd, Aaron smacked his 715th career home run off of the Los Angeles Dodgers's Al Downing, surpassing Babe Ruth's mark of 714.

Aaron was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, in 2002 by former President George W. Bush.

Aaron was most recently in the news just two weeks ago when he publicly received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

At the time, he told The Associated Press that getting the vaccine made him "feel wonderful."

"I don't have any qualms about it at all, you know. I feel quite proud of myself for doing something like this," the legendary slugger told the newswire. "It's just a small thing that can help zillions of people in this country."

-Updated at 1:45 p.m.

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